Red Wings win but playoffs will have to wait

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Red Wings did their part and won a game but the Ottawa Senators didn't cooperate.

Or is it the Pittsburgh Penguins who didn't cooperate, blowing a late lead and losing to Ottawa in overtime?

Regardless, the Red Wings defeated Carolina 3-2 Tuesday but with the Senators defeating Pittsburgh 4-3 in overtime, scoring in the final two minutes of regulation to earn at least one point, the Red Wings have yet to clinch a playoff spot.

The Red Wings' magic number is two points heading into games Thursday in Montreal and Saturday in Carolina for a possible 24th consecutive playoff spot.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," said goaltender Jimmy Howard, who earned the win with 30 saves. "Now Thursday's game in Montreal just becomes that much more important for us."

The Joe Louis Arena crowd erupted at game's end, most knowing Ottawa was trailing late in regulation time.

Maybe even the Red Wings felt they had earned a ticket to the playoffs.

But they insisted there was no letdown or disappointment knowing Ottawa had salvaged a victory.

"The bottom line for us is we're in control of our situation," coach Mike Babcock said. "We had to win two games and we understand that totally to get in. Our team has had to fight through adversity."

With Boston idle Tuesday, the Red Wings moved past Boston (97 points to 95) into third place and an automatic spot in the playoffs. Boston fell into a wild-card position.

But Boston has three games left, the Red Wings have only two.

Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk provided the heroics Tuesday for the Red Wings.

Both had a goal and assist and it was Zetterberg setting up Datsyuk for the eventual winner in the third period.

Babcock reunited the two veteran stars on a line with Darren Helm, and the trio was productive.

It was a big game for Zetterberg, who ended an 11-game goal-scoring drought and played, arguably, one of his best games in weeks.

"Sometimes you need a little change and get a little different feel," Zetterberg said of playing with Datsyuk. "It's no surprise we like to play together but we haven't played together that much lately.

"Today it was good we had a chance and scored some goals."

Zetterberg's goal was only his second in the last 28 games. He expressed disappointment in his performance after the morning skate.

"This time of year I'm supposed to be there and put up points for our team and I haven't done that lately," Zetterberg said. "There's some games that I've been playing to my standards but too many games here lately, I haven't.

"Obviously it's something I'm not happy about, and hope I can change that."

Gustav Nyquist tied it 2-2 just 1:56 into the third period.

Datsyuk saw Nyquist breaking into the zone and fed Nyquist, who slid a shot along the ice that trickled off goalie Anton Khudobin's blocker and past the goalie for Nyquist's 27th goal.

Then, it was Zetterberg's turn to supply the hard work on the winner.

Zetterberg took the puck down the side and outmuscled a Hurricanes defender all the way behind the net, then centered the puck to Datysuk in the slot.

Datsyuk snapped a shot past Khudobin for his 25th goal at 11:25.

"We needed their goals and they did a good job for us," said Babcock, who feels Zetterberg has been carrying a larger load than usual with the Red Wings' injuries. "We're all in this together, so it's not on one guy. Z is a good player and a proud guy who wants to play well and he's trying.

"As long as you're putting in the effort, things will turn for you."

Zetterberg (power play) opened the scoring for the Red Wings, ending an 11-game goal-scoring drought.

The Hurricanes scored twice later in the second period — goals by Nathan Gerbe (Oxford) and Chris Terry — erasing the 1-0 Red Wings lead.

But Howard stopped 16 shots in the third period to preserve the late Red Wings rally, and his second consecutive victory.

"It's a fun time of year. This is when you learn what you're made of and how mentally tough you are," Howard said. "You know, there's going to be nights or bounces that you're not going to like. But you just have to bounce back and you have to continue to make saves for the guys."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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